Mira Terada’s speech at the International Conference of the Foundation to Battle Injustice with a report on “Torture in the XXI century. How an ugly relic of the past has been reborn in the new century”

Mira Terada, head of the Foundation to Battle Injustice, spoke at the International Conference of the Foundation and the Patriot Media Group “The Problem of Tortures and Its Undermining of the Criminal Justice Systems of the Modern Countries of the World. Searching for Solutions” with a report on “Torture in the XXI century. How an ugly relic of the past has been reborn in the new century.” The human rights activist spoke about sophisticated methods of torture of convicts and prisoners in different countries, suggested what role the United States of America played in organizing torture pipelines, and shared what psychological tortures prisoners have to go through in almost every prison in any state.

Мира Тэрада
Mira Terada

Torture in the XXI century. How an ugly relic of the past has been reborn in the new century.

Torture is bad. We tend to understand it now. Torture begins to be abolished in Europe since the middle of the 17th century. Since the 19th century they were banned in almost all European countries. Even then people understood the inexpediency, inefficiency and inhumanity of torture. We can consider it to be a great step for humanity. The worst fact that in the 20th century people returned to torture in Germany, USSR, China and in Latin American dictatorial regimes. The 20th century can be considered barbaric for many reasons, however the geopolitical process helped people to realize how far they could go, allowed to learn on their own mistakes. This also takes the torture. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was adopted in 1984. Unfortunately to learn something and use the new knowledge again are different things. It should be noticed that in least developed countries and in many Asian states unfortunately torture has not gone away. For many of them respect of human rights is not a priority. However they do not have any positive example. After all even those countries that learned lessons of the Second World War have also participated in these events. I am talking about such countries as United States, Russia and many European countries. Those countries that actively opposed Nazism condemned its war crimes in their speeches and lawsuits, eventually make the same mistake. It sounds terrible, it sounds creepy, but it’s true. Perhaps we could say that it started with war crimes of the US and scandals around prisons in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and in Bagram. Thousands of Muslim prisoners of war and those who were suspected of having ties with them were tortured there. These people were beaten, not allowed to sleep, they were tied up, were tortured with cold or hot temperature, were tortured with water and were bitten and raped by dogs. This is not a complete list. Not a single person and not a single living being deserves to go through this. Do we need to say that many of these people were imprisoned with no grounds or without being guilty. The instructions issued to military investigators say that the UN convention does not apply to terrorists, which means that they can be tortured. What kind of forth can we talk about if the states that have ratified it can decide to whom they want to apply it and does not deserve a status of human. This is exactly what I mean when I was talking about political regimes of the last century. Tortures have always been a way to make a person talk. But the 21st century is the era of science and knowledge. It makes a cold blood approach in these tortures even more disgusting. Torture in prisons of the Middle East was developed with a specific approach. For example, in Abu Ghraib prisoners were forcibly fed with sinful pork and were given sinful alcohol beverage. Taking into account, the law of carnal pleasure in Muslim countries and attitude towards representatives of the opposite sex as to second class citizens Americans used female soldiers to mock male prisoners, to humiliate and harass them. Often the process was filmed to make it even more humiliating. It’s not just about the USA: there were CIA bases in three European countries that worked as a part of a global war to terrorism, where people were subjected to torture. There countries were Poland, Lithuania, Romania. The other countries can be reproached with a pure soul for the fact that they did not interfere with these processes and do not position them as a problem at all. Which is terribly hypocritical, if you remember how much you want to believe political leader who proclaims the pricelessness of human rights and freedoms and human life.
However, we know that not only prisoners of war and terrorists are subjected to tortures. They have long become a permanent attribute of imprisonment in almost all countries. As I said, the 21st century is the era of science and knowledge. And in many places people have indeed stopped being beaten and raped, but the torture has not gone away. They just took on a new form. No, of course, physical violence is still used in many places. Here I can refer to what I saw personally in prisons in the United States, to the experience of people who I talked to in the framework of my human rights work, to scandals around prisons in the developed and developing world. This shocks us, but no longer surprises us. However, not all of prisoners go through physical torture. Psychological torture is used everywhere and to some extent affects the vast majority of prisoners. The American sociologist Albert Biderman wrote The Manipulation of Human Behavior in 1961. In this book he outlined psychological techniques to suppress a person and make them an obedient instrument of a manipulator. In 1973, Amnesty International declared that this methodology, summarized in an eight-point table, contained “universal tools of psychological torture and coercion.” This table looks like this:

Point 1. Isolation
Deprive the victim of support and make dependent on authority. This is what generally happens to a someone who is put in jail. However, the effect becomes even stronger in the case of solitary confinement. Our colleague, Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on torture, said in his report that prolonged solitary confinement is a form of torture, but legislators in different countries, at least nowadays, do not take it serious enough.

Point 2. Monopolization of Perception
Create a sense of an immediate dangerous situation and fix all attention on it. Punish for independence of opinion and action, force to obey authority. Examples: physical isolation, darkness or bright light, barren environment, restricted movement, monotonous food.

Point 3. Induced Debilitation and Exhaustion
Weaken mental and physical ability to resist. Semi-starvation, lack of medical care, sleep deprivation, prolonged interrogation.

Point 4. Threats
Threaten a prisoner that conditions can become even worse, which makes a person live in a sense of hopelessness.

Point 5. Occasional indulgences
Not letting prisoners get used to hardships, occasionally indulgencies in exchange for submission, the guards develop a reflex association. After that prisoners have an unconscious desire to deserve this indulgence.

Point 6. Demonstrating “Omnipotence” and “Omniscience”
To make a victim feel that their fate is in the hands of authority, completely deprive them of urge to defend themselves, their rights, freedoms, even simple desires.

Point 7. Degradation
To destroy the self-esteem and sense of self-importance of the victim. Reduce prisoner to ‘animal level’ concerns. Examples: personal hygiene prevented, filthy infested surrounds, demeaning punishments, insults and taunts, denial of privacy.

Point 8. Enforcing Trivial Demands
The final step is to develop in the victim the habit of obeying, forcing them to follow ridiculous, meaningless orders.

Here they are, the universal instruments of psychological torture that can be found in any prison of any state, millions of people around the world are subjected to these kinds of torture. One would need a long time and psychotherapy to recover from it. However, the trauma will not remain in the past. Thus, the rate of recidivism cannot decrease. American sociologist Robert Martinson spoke about this back in 1974. His research influenced what I want to point out as a positive example – some of Scandinavian countries. There, prisoners are treated like human beings, often have access to society, which teaches them to live a society and creates a desire to be rehabilitated. Evidence of this is that in Norway the recidivism rate is about 24%, while in the USA or Russia it goes beyond 50%.
Unfortunately, Russia is not an example of an efficient correction system that respects human rights especially after the recent torture scandals. However, conclusions have been drawn, and officials who were responsible for preventing this from happening have been dismissed. I want to believe that now it will really get better. However, we cannot sit idle, which is why we have gathered today. I hope that within the framework of this conference we will be able to develop new approaches to solving the problem, achieve the creation of more comprehensive legislation to prohibit torture and contribute to the fight for human rights.


Dmitry, “Economica Segodnya”: I have such a question about the American prison system. You compared it with the Russian penitentiary system, but we still have such a topic as international treaties. For example, complaints to the European Commission are a favorite activity of many convicts or simply those under investigation in a pre-trial detention center or other places of deprivation of liberty. And in principle, considering the consideration, all of them are carried out and have an effective impact on the regime of prisoners. Is there something similar in the United States, does the American penitentiary system comply with at least some international agreements, or according to American tradition, this part of the law does not work at all?

Mira Terada: The USA has extraterritorial legislation. The United States of America has withdrawn from most of the international agreements, but at the same time safely remains in the extradition agreements. Therefore, unfortunately, with regard to violations by the United States of America, the tools to bring them to justice are extremely limited.

Ruslan, “Narodnye Novosti”: What should a Russian citizen who is in a foreign prison do to be returned home?

Mira Terada: Let’s start with the detention. Perhaps, first of all, it is necessary to ask that representatives of law enforcement agencies notify representatives of the Russian Foreign Ministry in the territory of the state where the detentions take place. It is necessary to require an interpreter and a lawyer and do not sign anything. And then, answering your question, it is necessary to navigate through the course of events here: what kind of charges are brought, because everything also depends on the country making the charges and on the country that carries out the detention. Of course, it is always necessary to keep in touch with representatives of the Russian Foreign Ministry in the first place, because it is necessary to avoid violations of the rights of Russian citizens who are imprisoned abroad as much as possible.

Ruslan, “Narodnye Novosti”: How should I act if I am under pressure from the police?

Mira Terada: What kind of pressure?

Ruslan, “Narodnye Novosti”: If the police are doing some illegal actions?

Mira Terada: In no case should you behave aggressively. If you do not have the language of the country in which you are detained, you should definitely ask for an interpreter, try to speak less Russian, because the language is incomprehensible, the language sounds aggressive to them. Try not to wave your hands, that is, any of your actions can and will be used against you, as well as the word, and moreover can be regarded as aggression. And, as for the United States, in case of a feeling of aggression, unfortunately, law enforcement agencies have the right to use and use firearms.

Ruslan, “Narodnye Novosti”: Another question is: how frequent are violent actions against prisoners in foreign prisons? What does the statistics say and how to reduce the number of these tortures in places of detention?

Mira TeradaThe statistics are scary, but they are not accurate. That’s the whole point. Because not every such offense is claimed by the victims of these offenses. In this situation, of course, there is no need to be silent in any case, victims must necessarily notify representatives of the embassy, it is necessary to transmit information to human rights organizations, which I believe are playing a significant role in the Russian Federation at the moment, including. According to statistics, I can’t orient myself for sure right now, because I will be unfounded.

Ruslan, “Narodnye Novosti”: International law explicitly prohibits torture and any bullying by law enforcement agencies. But how does this very international legislation react when victims turn to them?

Mira TeradaEvery day we compile a huge number of appeals, open letters to protect people who contact us. I want to say that we rarely get any answers. I would like more. That is why we have gathered here today in order to develop some method, some approach to work more effectively to restore the rights and freedoms of citizens.